Conversational Programming

Yes, this is a two-way title, referring to both today’s SirsiDynix Institute talk I was lucky enough to be part of and the topic of mashups. Despite the fact that AADL and the surrounding area was under attack and I was disconnected from the data portion of the presentation for the duration, it went extremely well. As usual, I’m humbled by the articulate insights of Stephen Abram, Michael Casey, and Michael Stephens. If you missed it, be sure to catch the archive when it comes out later this week.
The Cathedral
A topic of discussion today was mashups. a mashup, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is “a website or web application that seamlessly combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience” [wikipedia]. More than likely, you’ve encountered them already without even knowing they were mashups. These are bits of code that can allow you to either incorporate external data sources into your own site or, conversely, can make data streams available from your site that can be “mashed in” to remote sites. Recently, mashups have become a very vogue topic.

The first ever mashup camp drew to a close yesterday. It was the brain-child of David Berlind and Doug Gold. Essentially, It was a collection of mashup authors from around the country and, ostensibly, the world who gathered to share their creativity and brainpower. Notably, among them was Ann Arbor’s Ed Vielmetti. He’s reported back on the “camp’s” progress–be sure to check out his blog.
The Bazaar
But what does this have to do with libraries, and why should we be paying attention to this? Well, beside the fact that mashups are the new, hot technology and we should be keeping up with all new, hot technology, mashups have enormous potential to redefine he library boundary both in terms of the technology itself and the people creating it.

Immediately, we can see the potential on our own sites by bringing in highly-polished, powerful tools in ways that enhance the information we already have to offer. A good example that Stephen Abram cited, was the ability to use the Google Maps API to provide very specific, very user-friendly directions to library branch locations. What makes mashups so exciting is that creativity and innovation are the key elements at play in the construction of these things.

The fact that new, high-level scripting languages and development engines like Ruby or Ruby on Rails, even, are being developed make the assemblage of Web 2.0 APIs a fairly easy endeavor. As a result, we’re starting to see our patrons get into the groove as they begin to spin their own creations. Ed Vielmetti’s Amazon mashup is a great example of this. He’s written a Greasemonkey plugin that sneaks item availability into an Amazon record. The subversive nature of these things really tickles my fancy–it allows us, as end users, to do things that would mortify any sales team. We need to laud the use of our data wherever our patrons decide it should be.

Mashups are about individual empowerment. As libraries, we need to be able to step right in and lend tools to our users that will allow them to start creating these unintended uses. Again, this requires us to have… that’s right, suitable APIs! The PatREST project I’m working on strives to do just that and I’m so grateful that Dave Pattern at Huddersfield has joined me. We’ve been able to create a bilateral push for this by producing near-identical results using two very different systems.

The mashup also poses some fundamental questions about the library’s reach–where it begins (from the patron view) and where it ends (from our insider’s view). By enabling users to spin our library tendrils into any place they like, we’re creating a very ambiguous border on our OPACs, which, in turn, causes the entire ILS to recede into the background and play a significantly different role. Increasingly, it’s just the business logic we want.

And so, as a whole new generation of Frankensteins are born, can you say that your ILS ready? Can you deal your data out under the table? With sleight-of-hand, we’re going to make the library insidious.

[tags]Mashups, API, Web 2.0, Library 2.0, Programming, Coders, Superpatron[/tags]

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